Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Development of the Opening of the Mouth

            Exactly when the Opening of the Mouth first came into use is unknown, although it might have been as early as the Predynastic Period since a flint Pesh-en-kef, which dates to this period, has been found [1]

In the early Old Kingdom the Opening of the Mouth was still a relatively simple ceremony, which began with the sprinkling of water and the burning of incense for purification purposes. The statue[2] of the deceased was next anointed with seven kinds of unguents and the eyes were anointed with two different kinds of eye paint. Two garments were presented, after which there was a censing and sprinkling of water. The statue was then considered ready for the funerary meal, which usually consisted of several kinds of cakes and breads served with beer[3].

            In the Fifth Dynasty the Opening of the Mouth becomes far more complex and references are now made to Horus performing funerary rites for his father Osiris. Budge[4] was of the opinion that the earlier, and less complex, ceremony may have been favored by the theologians of Memphis, while the priests who drew up the texts for the pyramids of Unas, Teti, and Pepi II were under the influence of a cult not accepted at Memphis (quite possibly that of Osiris).

            During the latter part of the Old Kingdom the Opening of the Mouth was still far less complex than it would become in the New Kingdom, but many of the rituals used later had already made an appearance by this time. For instance, from the texts of Unas we learn that the ceremonies opened with several purification rituals, which were followed by the touching of the eyes and mouth with the Pesh-en-kef and then with the “Iron of the North” and the “Iron of the South”. After this there followed a series of rituals in which food was offered to the deceased and the statue was anointed and dressed[5].

            As mentioned earlier, the Middle Kingdom provides archaeologists with no real knowledge of the development of the Opening of the Mouth. That this is extremely unfortunate as there can be no doubt, especially when one considers the relative simplicity of the Old Kingdom ceremony as compared to the complex set of rituals with which we are confronted in the Eighteenth Dynasty. There must have been a great deal of change in this funeral ceremony during the Middle Kingdom, but no evidence of the changes is available to us.

[1] E. A. W. Budge, The Book of the Opening of the Mouth (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truber & Co., 1909, vol. I, p. vii.

[2] In some cases the actual body of the deceased might be used instead of a statue.

[3] Budge, vol. 1, pp. 2-3.

[4] Budge, vol. I, pp. 4-5.

[5] E. A. W. Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967), pp. cxxxix-cxli.

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